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Harris demands, ‘Where’s the jail?’

By Judith Pannebaker

For the second consecutive meeting of the Bandera County Commissioners Court, Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris posed a question he indicated was on his constituents’ lips: When will work begin on the county’s new jail and justice center?

When he first asked the question on Jan. 10, County Judge Richard Evans assured Harris the item would be on the Thursday, Jan. 24, agenda. Evans said architect Wayne Gondeck AIA of DRG Architects would attend the session to give the court an update. However, during the Thursday, Jan. 24, meeting, no mention was made about the jail and justice center.

So, prior to adjournment, Harris noted, “The question most asked by the voters in my precinct is, ‘What’s the holdup on the jail and justice center’?”

Evans explained that bids on the water well and wastewater system were due back on Thursday, Jan. 31. “There’s really nothing to talk about before the bids are in,” he said, adding, “They were doing test holes today for the wastewater system.”

“When we selected the Yates Company to do this, they said they would break ground in October and here it is January and nothing’s been done yet,” Harris rejoined.

“We must be within budget. We can’t start this project a million dollars in the hole,” Evans said, adding, “This is very frustrating. I get questions about it frequently.” He promised Harris that Gondeck would update the court on the long-delayed project at the Thursday, Feb. 14, meeting of commissioners court.

Last November J. Michael Hill, chief estimator for WG Yates & Sons Construction Company, described the well and dispersal system as problematic.

He told the court, “The water well scares me. The civil engineer designed what we call a ‘proprietary’ system that very few people can install.” He indicated this was the reason the county had previously received only a single bid for installing the system. “The civil engineer worked in a vacuum and didn’t talk to people about how wells are done in this county,” Hill added.

He indicated he would consult with the civil engineer to “fix pieces of the system rather than change it entirely.” Changing specifications would require applying for a new permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, an involved process the court hoped to avoid.

In addition, speculation remained rife that bids for the two components of the multi-million dollar project had exceeded budgeted amounts.

Last April, the court unanimously approved awarding the contract to WG Yates and Sons, when the company provided a lowball bid of $273,532 for the position of construction manager at risk.

Gondeck has been designated point of contact between Yates and the county during construction. In addition, he will retain direct oversight of the yet-to-be-initiated project.

In fall 2006, voters approved a bond package totaling $11.4 million - nearly $2 million of which will be used for site preparation and equipping and furnishing the facility.

Any funds remaining from the $9.5 million earmarked for construction of the Hill Country’s newest hoosegow - and court complex - will be split 60-40 between the county and contractor - with the county receiving the larger portion of the leftover largesse. “This would be used as a further incentive for the construction manager to reduce costs,” Gondeck told commissioners at an earlier meeting.

The 54,000 square foot jail and justice center will boast a 96-bed jail, along with supporting elements, such as kitchen, visitation area and laundry, as well as offices and courtrooms.
A ceremonial sod-slinging “photo op” for the new facility occurred in November, but as Harris pointed out, getting real work begun on the facility and site has been an exercise in frustration.